Stories by Steve Agbota
Agriculture accounted for nearly 60 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 80 per cent of export earnings for Nigeria at independence. Today, agriculture accounts for a third of GDP and less than one per cent of export earnings, with oil accounting for the rest.
Most of the major cash crops that could earn Nigeria foreign exchange have been neglected and left in the hands of subsistent farmers. One of such crops is cassava, a major staple food that can generate N20 trillion annually for Nigeria through industrial revolution.
Nigerian cassava production is by far the largest in the world, a third more than production in Brazil and almost double the production of Indonesia and Thailand. Even cassava production in other African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda appears small in comparison to Nigeria’s substantial output.
Despite being the world’s largest cassava producer (its cassava transformation is the most advanced in Africa, coupled with the fact that the world centre where cassava species is being developed located in Nigeria, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, which has all the technical qualifications to provide Nigerian farmers with cassava that will be used for industrial purpose), Nigeria is still not having industrial cassava, which is regarded as a money spinner in the international market.
Stakeholders across the cassava value chain lamented that Nigeria is only known for producing cassava for food consumption when it should be producing both industrial cassava and for consumption. They said industrial cassava has much value in terms of earning foreign exchange than the cassava for food.
Daily Sun investigation reveals that if farmers are given enabling environment by the government to plant cassava for industrial purpose, both parties would be making huge revenue. A farmer stands to make a minimum of N5 million to N15 million depending on the hectares of land because the demand is huge both at the local and international markets.
Ironically, Nigeria possesses fertile arable land to grow all sorts of cash crops including cassava. However, the country is said to be importing about 97 per cent of industrial starch valued at N500 billion and also import about N800 billion ethanol, which could be processed and sourced locally.
Apart from the fact that the commodity has over 40 commercial uses around the world, cassava starch has also been industrially modified to provide products with physical and chemical properties for specific applications, including the preparation of jelly, thickening agents, gravies, custard powders, baby food, glucose and confectioneries.
Speaking with Daily Sun, the National President, Nigerian Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Pastor Segun Adewumi, said cassava is one of the most reliable cash crops in the world that could also be used to trigger industrial revolution and solve Nigeria’s economic problems. He noted that aside its domestic uses, cassava has several major industrial uses including ethanol, industrial starch, glucose syrup and sweeteners among others, which can be used as raw materials for many utility items.
He explained: “We have said it that cassava can give us twice of what oil is giving us. Cassava can give us up to N20 trillion if it is done industrially. The cassavas we plant in this country are not right of type cassava for industrial use. The ones we plant are cassava for food but the real cassava for industry can be done. For instance, our cassava used to have about 18 per cent to 22 per cent starch contents but the one they use in Malaysia, Thailand and India has between 30 and 40 per cent. So the real thing they are looking for in value of cassava depends on starch contents with industrial value.
“We need to focus on industrial cassava, which generates three times what we get from oil. Out of 84 million arable hectares of land we have in Nigeria, if we devote five million hectares, it will give us N20 trillion. Cassava is not about animal feeds; it is about ethanol, industrial starch, cassava flour, glycerol, and sweetener. Sweetener is what is used for concentrate to make all the soft drinks such as coca-cola and seven-up. You can get glucose syrup from cassava. In terms of industrial starch, for instance, we import about 97 per cent of industrial starch we use in this country, which is more than N500 billion and we also import about N800 billion ethanol.”
According to him, government must create enabling environment for farmers to thrive in cassava production. He said government should also focus more on cassava so that farmers will be able to produce more of the commodity.
He added: “Government doesn’t have to put money to create enabling environment. There are lots of laws in Nigeria that hamper the prosperity of farmers. One of such laws has to do with land. It’s only in Nigeria you cannot use your land as a collateral for loan. Many industrialists have relocated from Nigeria, especially in the area of farming; they prefer to go to Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast and other neighbouring countries because of loan issues.
“For instance, if you invest N500 billion to get a land and you clear it with N1 billion, the bank will not recognise it as part of your investment as a collateral, which is what is killing farming in Nigeria. Another one is that it does not allow farmers to pay back their debt; if their land is taken as collateral, they won’t want their land seized. Government should compel the banks to provide long-term loan for land clearing,” he added.
A cassava farmer from Ekiti, Adekunle Olatosoye, said that government has not really done much in creating values around cash crops not only cassava. He said there is urgent need for government to partner IITA and HarvestPlus to develop species of cassava for industrial use.
He hinted that cassava is the best investment any investors or potential farmers can put in their money into as it plays an important role in agriculture in developing countries because it does well on poor soils and with low rainfall, since it is a perennial that can be harvested as required. He said that a farmer can earn a minimum of N10 to N15 million depending on hectares of land acquired for the farm purpose.
He lamented: “Now that cassava is being transformed from a famine-reserve commodity and rural food staple to a cash crop for urban consumption, government must provide mechanisation for farmers and other necessary farm inputs that will enable farmers to produce for both consumption and industrial purpose.
We need to do this because we are not exporting cassava chips to China and other countries abroad.
“For the cassava transformation to advance to the next stage of livestock feed and industrial raw material, labour-saving production, harvesting and processing technologies are needed to reduce costs, improve productivity and make cassava more competitive. Hitherto, the transformation will not carry on unless new uses and new markets are identified to absorb the increase in production.”
Scientists advise farmers on new spacing for cowpea planting
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) scientists are recommending a new spacing regime for cowpea that could give farmers up to 79 per cent more yield if adopted.
The new spacing was a result of a study on the effects of plant density on the performance of cowpea in Nigerian Savannah, conducted during the 2013 and 2014 growing seasons at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Experimental Stations in Kano and Zaria.
The study addressed the need to devise a viable alternative that would help limit the bottlenecks that farmers undergo in cultivating cowpea – a highly nutritious crop yet easily susceptible to parasitic weeds, and pests and disease infestation. It looked at the large disparity in farmers’ yield (0.3 Mg/hectare) and yield obtainable on experimental plots (1.5−2.5 Mg/ha and proposed simple agronomic practices that could help reverse the trend.
The study was conducted by IITA’s Alpha Kamara, Abdullahi Tofa, Stephen Kyei-Boahen, Reuben Solomon, and Hakeem Ajeigbe from the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
By simply adjusting plant density, researchers found that grain yield significantly improved from 1.20 Mg/hectare for a density of 133,333 plants per ha to 2.16 Mg/hectare for a density of 400,000 plants per hectare. Yield also increased by 68 per cent when planted at a density of 266,666 plants/ha and 79 per cent when planted at a density of 400,000 plants/hectare. These findings could potentially benefit over 20 million people in West and Central Africa depending on cowpea for their livelihood.
But how can the smallholder African farmer immediately start getting more from his field? The study explains that in addition to planting improved cowpea varieties, farmers must immediately change from using the current 75 by 20 cm spacing with two seeds planted per stand (this spacing gives 133,333 plants/hectare) to double or triple rows on ridges spaced 75 cm apart to achieve corresponding densities of 266,666 and 400,000 plants per hectare, respectively.
According to the study, these densities gave higher crop performance in terms of light interception, biomass production, yield and yield components.
“The answer is very simple. Since cowpea like any other grain crop in northern Nigeria is grown on ridges spaced 75 cm apart, the only option to increase plant density is to increase the number of rows planted per ridge from one to two or three rows. This way, smallholder farmers can increase cowpea grain and fodder yields if they adopt a density of 266,666 plants or more per hectare in cowpea cultivation,” said the scientists.